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Council rapped for delays while homeless family left in crowded conditions

The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised a London borough after an investigation found that a mother and her five children were accommodated in a damp and mouldy single bedroom.

The LGO also said that Ealing Council took too long to decide the family’s homelessness status, and that the local authority’s delays added three months onto a six-month stay in the unsuitable accommodation.

The council had not been wrong to place the family in the accommodation, which had its own cooking and bathing facilities, in the short term, the LGO accepted. However, Ealing should have continued looking for a more suitable place, it added.

The family were placed in the room after they were made homeless. The mother complained to the council about its suitability, saying it was not affordable, unsafe as it was too close to her former partner, and not close enough to her mother and the children’s schools.

The accommodation was also on the third floor, and the woman struggled to climb the stairs due to pelvic pain when she was pregnant, the LGO said.

The Ombudsman found the council wrongly recorded the accommodation as not overcrowded.

The LGO also criticised Ealing for the accommodation’s affordability. The local authority assessed the woman as being able to pay less than £40 per week for accommodation, yet she was left with arrears of £5,000 when she left because she was being charged several hundred pounds a week. This sum has now been waived.

Ealing eventually found the family were intentionally homeless, and therefore it did not have a housing duty towards them. “This meant the council accommodated the family for longer than if it had made a swifter decision,” the Ombudsman said.

The LGO said it recognised the efforts Ealing had made to review how it meets its demand for suitable accommodation, but called on it to write to all people currently placed in unsuitable housing and inform them of their rights.

Ealing has said it will identify and write to any households living in overcrowded bed and breakfast accommodation, but the LGO said that, to meet its recommendation, the council “should look at all aspects of suitability, and not just overcrowding”.

The council has also agreed to:

  • apologise to the woman and pay her £300 a month for the five months the family lived in unsuitable accommodation
  • apologise for the delays in dealing with her homelessness application and pay her £100 to acknowledge the frustration this caused.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils have a duty to ensure accommodation they place families in is suitable for their needs. And, while I appreciate the strains councils are under to find suitable accommodation at short notice for large families, in this case the council should have kept looking for something more appropriate.

“The family was left in overcrowded accommodation which had significant repair issues. This is not the first case this year in which I have reported on the poor housing families are being left in.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to most of my recommendations, but it still needs to accept and acknowledge others may be affected by similar issues raised in the report.”

The council has been approached for comment.

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